HDSLR 101

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A few years ago, HDSLRs revitalized the wedding video industry. Today, the second generation of HDSLRs offers a variety of great new features for shooting HD video. The most serious decision you can make as a wedding videographer, which will have an effect on both your workflow and style of shooting, will be your choice of camera.

5D Mark III

The Canon 5D Mark III boasts several enhancements over the 5D Mark II. In addition to higher maximum ISOs in video mode, Canon has added an intra-frame compression setting that provides sharper images and fewer compression artifacts on frames with fast moving, high-frequency detail. This recording mode requires more storage space, so you may need a few more memory cards than you are accustomed to carrying.

Fortunately, the 5D Mark III has slots for both CF and SD (SDXC or SDHC) cards, which effectively double the amount of storage you can keep inside the camera without swapping cards. The uninterrupted recording time of the 5D Mark III has been increased to 29 minutes and 59 seconds, up from the approxiamtely 12-minute recording limit of its predecessor.

Nikon D800

With the D800, Nikon has gone the extra mile to give both wedding videographers and photographers an extremely versatile full-frame SLR. The D800 is truly a hybrid photo/video camera, offering the highest megapixel count available on a full-frame SLR, while delivering well implemented video features to compete with other HDSLRs. Nikon has revamped compression settings yet again with the D800. Previously using MJPEG and AVCHD on earlier models, Nikon now uses h.264. The D800 also offers variable frame rates for those looking to experiment with cinematic looks. Just be careful not use the word “experiment” in front of the bride.

One of the more interesting features of the D800 is its ability to get a clean signal from the HDMI output. Not all HDSLRs do this. While HDMI outputs were originally designed as a way to provide inexpensive monitoring, one recent trend has been to use this output to record to a less compressed video codec. Generally, this is done by filmmakers to squeeze as much quality out of their camera as possible; however, for weddings where reliability is critical, this can also serve as a simultaneous recording option. In a wedding environment, it never hurts to have a backup.

Sony SLT-A99

Placing the Sony SLT-A99 in an article about HDSLRs is somewhat questionable. You might call it an SLT, or maybe an HDSLT. Whatever you call it, the A99 delivers a beautiful image while offering sophisticated features to aid video shooters. A while back, Sony dispensed with the namesake mirror and optical viewfinder assembly in their pro photo cameras, in favor of a translucent mirror. This mirror is designed to both transmit light to the sensor, as well as bounce it upward to a phase detection autofocus system.

This innovative system allows users to engage live view without sacrificing the speed of phase-detection autofocus. The SLT-A99 also outputs a clean, full-screen HDMI signal while in movie mode for simultaneous recording to an external recorder. Among full-frame HDSLRs, the SLT-A99 is the only camera to offer a tilting LCD.

Sony a7R

Another option that isn’t a true “SLR” is Sony’s full-frame a7R Mirrorless Digital Camera. The a7R supports 1080p video recording using the efficient AVCHD video codec, offering smooth 60p recording as well as 60i and cinematic 24p. It is also possible to capture uncompressed 8-bit 1080p video to an external recording via its HDMI output. It is also fully compatible with Sony’s XLR-K1M XLR adapter for use with professional shotgun microphones.

Canon EOS 70D

One area that many HDSLR cameras are lacking in is their autofocus capabilities, which can be slow and constantly hunt for focus, yielding less-than-desirable results. This is where the Canon EOS 70D shines. Featuring an APS-C sized sensor, the 70D uses a new Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus technology, which is remarkably quick, accurate and silent. You’ll notice the biggest gain when tracking moving subjects. Another perk of a reliable autofocus system is that it enables you to use the camera with steadicam systems where manually adjusting focus would be difficult or not desirable. The 70D is an excellent backup camera for the 5D Mark III, and its autofocusing abilities make it easy to hand off to a second operator who might not be comfortable yet with manual focus.

Panasonic DMC-GH3 / DMC-GH4

Many of the recent features on some other brands of full-frame HDSLRs, such as a headphone output, adjustable angle LCD screen, manual audio levels, audio level monitors and clean HDMI output were already included on previous generations of Panasonic’s GH line. Still, Panasonic has aggressively redesigned the DMC-GH3 to produce a camera that outperforms the already strong DMC-GH2. Not to be outdone by Canon's intra-frame settings, Panasonic has included a higher bit-rate intra-frame compression setting on the GH3. 

While all this is very exciting, the breakout feature for the wedding videographer is the maximum clip length of 240 minutes, which dwarfs others in the field. This would allow a videographer with two GH3s to leave one running on a tripod to catch a wide shot, while taking another into the crowd to grab shots closer to the action.

For those interested in 4K resolutions, the DMC-GH4 is nearly identical to the GH3, but adds internal 4K (4096x2160) and Ultra HD (3840x2160) recording, as well as 4:2:2 10-bit 1080p video to an external recorder via the HDMI output. It also features an improved OLED monitor and electronic viewfinder, built-in Wi-Fi with NFC technology, and a higher-speed 49-point autofocus. For professional video and audio connectivity and support for 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video output, the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit can be purchased separately or bundled with the camera.

One feature popping up in many recent HDSLRs is a headphone output, which allows shooters to monitor the microphone levels using headphones such as the Senal SMH1000 or the Sennheiser HD280, both of which offer good natural noise isolation so you are monitoring the signal and not the sound of the band.

Rigs and Support

An HDSLR can be built up into a large complex rig with all the niceties of a pro video camera, or stripped down to the bare camera and lens on a monopod, offering the simplicity and discretion of a photo camera. At any given wedding, there may be situations requiring one type of support or the other. Either way, support is critical in shooting video with a camera body that was primarily designed to shoot stills.

On the smaller side of things, we have the theEvent DSLR 2.0 from Redrock Micro. No, the extra “the” is not a typo. Redrock felt that this support was so well suited to event shooting that they chose to name it theEvent. This lightweight support is best suited for run-and-gun scenarios, where extra stabilization is required without effecting mobility.

The Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Support Rig offers a lightweight support option that is both strong and affordable. While it lacks the standard 15mm rod support system, hot-shoe-mounted accessories can still be added to the camera using an accessory bracket like the Vello Triple Shoe V-Bracket.

On the larger side of the rig category, we have the Shape Composite Stabilizer. This rig was designed to be the primary handheld support, with long shoots like weddings in mind. The shoulder support is heavily padded, providing a comfortable platform for the rest of the rig. The telescopic support arm provides another point of contact, and is designed to tuck into the operator's belt, transferring the weight of the rig to the hips. The wedding videographer is then free to use their arms to guide and control the camera without becoming tired. The entire rig is built around standard 15mm rods, making the Composite Stabilizer compatible with other 15mm standardized accessories such as a matte box or follow focus.

Follow Focuses

Until recently, it would have been a rare thing to find a follow focus in the equipment bag of a wedding videographer. Before the HDSLR revolution, the follow focus was mostly used for high-end television and cinema production. Today, a follow focus is a critical piece of equipment for nearly anyone working with the shallow depth of field offered by HDSLRs. Follow focuses mount upon a rod support system and help to control the focus of a lens by turning the focus barrel. This does two things for the user. It changes the orientation of the focusing control to one more suited for continuous filming and, more importantly, enables greater precision.

The Shape Friction and Gear Follow Focus Riser Rail Kit with Adjustable Marker is an innovative take on the traditional follow focus. Most modern follow focuses come built either as a geared or friction-based design. In this design, the friction wheel can be exchanged for a geared wheel, which is also included.

The Ikan Follow Focus Cine-Kit is not just a follow focus, but a whole system. The kit includes a crank accessory to allow the operator to quickly refocus, a whip to operate the follow focus while someone else is operating the camera, and two adjustable gears to attach to almost any lens.

Microphones

The rise of the HDSLRs has spawned a new market for small shotgun microphones with mini-jack connectors. These devices are one of the easier and more effective ways to provide general coverage for close subjects (less than 5 feet).

One shotgun that fits the bill is the RØDE VideoMic Pro. This shoe-mounted mic provides a directional pickup pattern that attempts to reject sounds that are not directly in front of the camera. This can be helpful for quickly capturing the audio you intend to capture, and not distracting ambient noise.

For those looking for an incredibly light option without sacrificing audio quality, then the Senal MS-66-K could be the microphone is worth considering. Another interesting option is the Shure VP83F LensHooper, which features an integrated recorder for high-quality 24-bit/48 kHz WAV audio files.

For a more in-depth discussion of microphones for HDSLR follow this link.

LED Lights

On-camera lighting for weddings involves walking a fine line. Too little light and there is not enough visible effect. Too much light and you can either overexpose or brighten your subject excessively, rendering the background very dark. To avoid this, a powerful LED light with a dimmer should give you a nice range of brightness to draw your subjects out of the background without washing them out.

One such light is the VidPro K-120, which features adjustable brightness from 0 to 100%. This light is sold in a kit with a battery, a charger and a filter to simulate tungsten lighting. The battery plate on the light is compatible with Sony L type batteries. In the wedding business, it's far better to have too much battery power than too little, and backups are never a bad idea.

Bescor offers an LED light with similar features, but with a much more common power source. The LED-180 uses either rechargeable or alkaline AA batteries. This can be really handy in a pinch, as AA batteries are sold just about everywhere.

When photographing weddings, you may be working either indoors or outdoors, or both. In such cases a light that can handle either is handy to have. You may have noticed that the light on a sunny day is far bluer than the light produced by indoor lighting fixtures. To prepare you for any eventuality, the Litepanels Croma features a dimmer and a knob for controlling color temperature, which should provide proper color balance for most situations. Another option, the Switronix TorchLED BOLT, provides roughly the equivalent output of a 200-watt tungsten light.

An on-camera light can make a huge difference in image quality by allowing you to keep the gain or ISO settings low, thereby decreasing graininess in the video. You may also consider a light stand, like this one from Impact.

Monitors

It's a simple fact that if you can't see, you can't focus, and while the LCD screens on the back of camcorders are rapidly improving, it's hard to beat the flexibility of an LCD monitor. This is especially true when you are trying to position a camera while shooting on a tripod high over guests' heads.

The Marshall's CT-7 is a lightweight solution that offers adequate resolution for focusing. The CT-7 is offered in several packages, each with a different battery plate. If you are a 5D Mark III or 7D user, this Marshall CT-7 kit will be of particular interest, as it comes with two Canon-compatible batteries. So, when you buy a battery for your camera you are also buying a battery for your monitor, and vice versa. Remember, backups are never a bad idea.

Sony understands the benefit of being able to use the same battery for the camera and accessories, so they have released the 5” CLM-V55 kit. Sony SLT-A99 users will have the added benefit of sharing batteries between the two devices. Another benefit of this monitor bundle is an included hood, which will greatly improve visibility outdoors on a sunny day.

Viewfinder

Viewfinders like the Zacuto EVF can offer shooters of all disciplines a more portable, power-efficient alternative to LCD monitors. One of the greatest advantages of an EVF over a monitor is superior visibility in direct sunlight. The Z-Finder EVF also has a built-in scaler to correct for the bizarre HDMI output of some first-generation HDSLRs. If you own one of these first-generation HDSLRs, the Zacuto EVF may be a good investment, if you are looking for a system to help you achieve more accurate focus.

With the current crop of HDSLR gear, it has never been easier to get into the business of shooting weddings with an HDSLR. If you have been considering an HDSLR for wedding videography, now may be the time to stop considering and capture the action.

As much as we can cover in this guide, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. If you need further help in figuring out how to best equip yourself, speak with a B&H sales professional at our New York SuperStore, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or online via Live Chat.

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This is a handy guide dslr sales also benefited from the HD recording capability that led to their dual market uptake for photography and video use. Great imagery in a convenient portable system.

As DSLR video/filmmaking enters its 5th year its amazing what's been and being achieved.

only one thing really missing here.... Steady cam. An essential piece of kit for any DSLR vid artist who gets off the tripod. Without this you end up with a very jerky effect and a 3rd rate product. Great article though, good introduction